rituals

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DAIRY GOAT | CONSIDER BARDWELL FARM

 

The sun will rise soon, but not yet. The fog remains settled in the cool embrace of the Indian River Valley before daybreak. The faint glimmer of the stars lingers in the sky above. All is quiet and still, save for a herd of milk goats that has spotted a farmer heading in their direction. With a smattering of yells, grunts, bleats, and other assorted goat noises, the day begins.

From March until December, every single morning at Consider Bardwell Farm starts the same way. 5:30 a.m. means it is time to go get the goats and bring them in for morning milking.  With the opening of a swinging gate, 140 goats spill out of their pasture and march back to the barn, udders full. They are easily distracted along the way: no overhanging branch goes unchecked, un-nibbled; no human escapes his or her fate of becoming a communal scratching post. Eventually the herd makes its way to the barnyard, which quickly comes to resemble a schoolyard during recess. Some in the herd ready themselves to report to duty, while others curl up along the fence line to grab a quick nap. Cliques form and skirmishes ensue—posturing, head butting, more posturing—it’s all in a day’s work for these ladies; all a part of maintaining the proper order within the herd.

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Goats are creatures of habit. They strive for a steady routine every bit as much as we humans do. In that sense, a day in the life of a dairy goat looks much the same as all of the others. There is something of a pecking order to milking — there are a few herd queens, several young bozos yet to learn the ropes, and, ah yes, there are those goats full to the brim with mischief. The order goes unnoticed until it is disrupted, at which time it becomes quite obvious. When we first began our jobs at Consider Bardwell, we were told that the first three groups to come into the milk parlor—54 goats in all—could pretty well be predicted. It seemed shocking, unbelievable almost, that of 140 goats the same few would find their way into the milk parlor first. But it’s true. They do. 

By 9 o’clock, when most people are just getting to work, the milking herd has finished its first shift of the day. The march back to pasture commences and ends with delight as the goats find a new paddock of untouched pasture ready to be grazed. 

Pasture crops like timothy, red and white clover, orchard grass, bird’s eye trefoil, alfalfa, and rye render goat milk very tasteful (which, you know, makes delicious cheese). The fields are good for the goats and good for the business. That said, goats are evolutionarily suited to browse—think shoots, high-hanging branches, sticks and otherwise woody forage. The best paddock on the farm still does not excite the goats as much as a single sumac branch. When it’s possible, we trudge through woods and hedgerows with moveable electric fencing to ensure the goats can have their fun while also eating grass. They happily devastate invasive species and the bark on trees in a day’s time.

This is their reward twice daily, an offering of appreciation for all that they give to us in the milk parlor. The intensive rotational grazing plan at Consider Bardwell Farm ensures that the goats are never on the same piece of land for more than twelve hours at a time. By moving to a fresh, well-rested piece of land after each milking, the goats enjoy truly excellent quality forage and roughage. 

We bring them in once more, late in the afternoon, to give milk all over again. In their mischievous, entertaining manner, these goats work hard for a living, and in doing so allow us to do the same. Healthy, happy animals make for a healthy, happy farm. A day in the life of a dairy goat is simply an exchange between time spent in the milk parlor and out on pasture. While they are being milked, the farmer is setting up pieces of fresh pasture; while they are on pasture, the farmer is readying & cleaning the milk parlor. By design, we hope to stay behind-the-scenes and out-of-the-way throughout the day, only making our presence known when necessary. They may be farm animals with work to do, but as much as possible we leave them to the natural way of life that they love best.


—M&S

IN DEFENSE OF VALENTINE'S DAY | A HOME TOUR

 

Oh February, you fickle month, you. Being a resident lover of winter (best season forever and ever amen), even I have never met a person who really loves February. Funny, then, that the holiday representative of love falls smack in the middle of this gelid, forgettable month. As if the collective groan of Midwest society wasn't enough, Lent — a liturgical season of fasting — often lays claims to February. Enter me. For more than a decade I have hailed Valentine's Day as my second favorite holiday of the year, and I always mean it. My reasoning has nothing to do with random acts of kindness or saying 'I love you' an extra time; I'd wager I am already at maximum capacity with telling my husband I love him. Roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are certainly of no interest to me (though I'm not in the business of turning those things down).

Valentine's Day is the day when I get to offer my affinity for winter and all things pale pink to those around me. Stews become romantic and cracking a bottle of mead is reasonable. The craft chest gets opened and I design Mark's annual valentine. In college we would hole up together and cook a time-intensive meal like traditional paella. Now we opt for cooking for others because we can. We spent all of February 14th preparing a four course meal for my parents and oldest sister. It was simple, Mediterranean, and in our wheelhouse.

I sliced each Blue Adirondack potato with wonder. Vibrant purple vegetables in winter: what a treasure. Our table settings included my mother-in-law's first dish set, now our first, gold cloth napkins handed down from my sister, and new flatware—the dearest wedding gift from our grandma (who spent months watching the 'specials' so as to pick up each piece when it went on sale). We had the aural delight of listening to the entirety of The Beatles discography on vinyl. A Valentine's Day not unlike other days of the year, but noteworthy in its own right. So while I'm not here to convert anyone to loving a holiday famous for being unloved, I would like to make the assertion that Valentine's Day can be non-commercial and worthy of celebration if we make it so.


—S

MARRIAGE | PREPARATIONS + PROVISIONS

 

Five weeks ago, more or less, we moved our wedding plans forward five months to January. Now we are getting married in five days. Life in the interim has been a whirlwind in the truest sense of the word. Chaotic, tiring, very special, and quite full (of everything). In the scope of our own existence, it seems that we are living in extraordinary times. Preparing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for marriage has added a bit of gravitas to the daily agenda. 

Yet I have not felt a heaviness in this preparatory period. If anything, much peace has been found in the very ordinary routines & provisions of each day leading up to the big one. Indeed, both of us have taken up special preparations, for which we had not carved out time in the past. It would be silly to claim that we have not heightened our attention to body care routines, or that we have not expanded our efforts to transform my bachelor pad into a marital home. But I anticipate that most of those endeavors will return to the mean after our trip up the altar. More impactful, I think, has been the resurgence of a few habits of old. 

putting on a record

I have started making music again. That is, actually recording the music that floats around in my head but tends to lose out to something else, usually apathy. For whatever reason, I tend to listen more closely to the chord structures & rhythms of the universe when there is a lot going on in my life. (P.S. If you'd like to hear those sounds as I hear them, feel free to have a listen here.) 

The aroma and delightful crackle of fresh baked bread has returned to my kitchen, too. Perhaps the simple act of mixing flour, salt, water, and yeast in their proper proportions helps to maintain balance & order in my life. I do not know for sure, but it seems reasonable. What I do know is that the joy provided by a time-tested personal pursuit such as baking bread far exceeds any satisfaction I could obtain from limiting the amount of gluten or carbohydrates in my wedding diet. (Relevant notes: I am not on a wedding diet & the bread recipe is forthcoming.)

Beginning this weekend, so much is set to change in my life—like the ever-changing pattern of cracks & crevices along the surfaces of the breads I bake; like the ambient noise, made up of different daily traffic & weather patterns, heard faintly behind the vocals I record. And yet, so much is set to remain the same. Like the very importance of making music & baking bread. Like the love & commitment I have felt so deeply for the woman I am ready to call my wife.


—M

THE MORNING AFTER | A DOWN HOME NEW YEAR

 
a messy table
mark and george

We set up an improv stage and improv-ed for hours. We made Top 10 Best & Worst lists for 2015. We articulated to one another how we feel the world perceives us. We consumed home brew and prosecco and more wine. We taught each other our best dance moves. We conducted blind taste tests with spices. We slow cooked pork shoulder and baked mini dark chocolate cakes with from-scratch whipped cream and goat milk caramel. We dunked homemade bread into honey, and in the morning we made two French presses. It was so full; so good.

We set the table in a way that would have looked great in photos. But it was 8 p.m. before supper was ready and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc was already empty. So we forgot about photos and soaked up every moment of this best friend reunion. It was the sort of unkempt party that travels into the wee hours of the morning. The sort that begs to be reminisced over while fully extended on the couch, coffee in hand.

As a couple, we have worked to create a 400 square foot space that is overflowing with music, plants, and quality food. Always good food. When we eventually washed the copious dishes and vacuumed the rugs, we found ourselves remarking on how little money we have, yet we feel totally rich in experience and in food. That's the gorgeous reality of working in agriculture + food, in knowing farmers, in investing what little money you do have in growing (and brewing) your own.

Welcome, 2016. 

coffee mug
table setting
marky
andrew in the morning
music and plants

—S